"Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."
— Joseph Addison
It's not often that perfect days come at you so fast.
Wednesday, a week ago today, was my birthday, and I had a good one. It was low key and relaxed. Marti treated me like a king and Facebook lit up with good wishes. Strawberry shortcake and ice cream made it near perfect. (Blue Bell would have been perfect but … you know.)
Thursday was a day to celebrate Fit City's "Lighten Up East Texas" weight-loss challenge. It was chilly on the patio at FRESH, but we dodged showers and had a great crowd. We had a good time, gave out great prizes and saw a lot of smiles … but I'll admit to being disappointed our grand-prize winner, 18-year-old Rylee Moore of Flint, wasn't present when her name was drawn.
The Bullard High senior lost 6 percent of her body weight during the challenge and qualified for a single chance at winning a new Hyundai Elantra from Allen Samuels Tyler. When we reached her by phone, Rylee was on a school bus south of Rusk, returning from a field trip. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I won the car! I won the car!" she shouted to her classmates. Her reaction was so perfect we decided to wait.
As the skies turned wet, we helped Mike, Steve, Scott and Todd — the Tuxedo Cats — pack their gear, grabbed a bite at the FRESH taco bar and waited. Our party had been over for two hours when we handed Rylee the keys. Her smile lit the dark and defied the damp, and we knew the wait was worth it.
Friday was my nephew's high school graduation in Norman, Oklahoma, and the thrill of seeing so many wonderful kids step off into life made the 8-hour trip and dead stop traffic jam on I-35 just a minor annoyance. We skipped dinner and entered Lloyd Noble Center as "Pomp and Circumstance" began to play. On a stairway short of our seats, we waited as 500-plus students and teachers filed past on their trek to the stadium floor. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of Paxton under a sea of green mortarboards. Instead, we were treated to a high-five, a smile and a "thanks for coming."
Saturday found me up early, sitting on a couch beside my mother, reading to her from a collection of past columns. She liked the one about the Buick, adding a few memories of her own. At 96, she often can't recall what she had for breakfast but surprises you sometimes with recollections from her lifetime of memories.
After goodbyes, we headed for the beautiful Chickasaw Cultural Center near Sulphur. Marti was looking forward to a lecture by her friend Neil Curtis, director of Museums for the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She worked with him eight years ago to bring a collection of beaded artifacts from Scotland to the Cherokee Nation. Now he was here in person, with more information about the history of the beadwork, a big smile, a powerful hug … and he wore his kilt. She was in heaven.
That afternoon, heading south, we crossed the Red River boiling just below the Interstate 35 bridge. In Garland, after a quick visit with our daughter, I left Marti to visit and drove through the rain to Dallas and a reunion with a half dozen journalists who had made my first newsroom management job so rewarding. It was great to see Anne, Cynthia, Glenna, Melanie, Karen and Kathy, and we shared stories from 35 years past, remembered co-workers and attempted to identify the magic that made that young news team at the Brazosport Facts so wacky and wonderful.
Early Sunday morning, we finally made it home — delayed by a wreck that blocked the highway and forced a detour back into Dallas searching for another route east. After sleeping late, I nursed my back from a dive I took in the pouring rain into what in the dark felt like Glenna's rock garden, packed for the next adventure, started working on this column and watched the Indy 500 live for the first time in years.
Monday, Memorial Day, I jetted off to Washington with another batch of WWII and Korean War veterans to see Washington, D.C., for three days. It's my sixth such trip, and I turned this column in before I left … but I know how much fun those 30 veterans will have.
Tuesday, we will have stood in hushed silence at the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery and saluted the haunting notes of Taps at the National World War II Memorial. We will have ridden to the top of the Washington Monument, studied the images in black granite along the right side of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, traced with our fingers the names on the Vietnam Wall, climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and stood where Martin Luther King stood when he proclaimed, "I have a dream."
Today, we're still in Washington, and the rain that soaked us in Texas may again be with us. But with 92-degree temperatures predicted, we won't mind a bit of rain. We'll endure a lot of thank yous, absorb a lot of hugs from school children and create another batch of memories before bringing 30 smiling veterans home to their families. We'll be exhausted, but those smiles make it all more than worth it.
What a week. All I can say is, "Life is good. Ignore the aches. Tough it out through the delays. Smile at the rain on your face. Love those who made your life complete. And remember the good stuff."
Dave Berry is former editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His column appears each Wednesday in the My Generation section. Yes, he's enjoying his retirement.